Trevor Rosenthal and the Cardinals’ player development machine


St. Louis Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Chris Lee)

This is how the Cardinals do it. One of their scouts spots a 19-year-old shortstop from Cowley County Community College in Arkansas City, Kan. He just took up pitching. They know he’s thrown only 4 2/3 innings in junior college. But they see him throwing in the mid-90s from the mound, and they snatch him in the 21st round out of the 2009 draft.

The Cardinals dump him into the maw of their player development machine and turn him loose on the minor leagues. He makes 66 appearances in the minors, learning feel and control and pumping his fastball into the triple digits. The last 42 appearances are starts, but in late 2012 the Cardinals need bullpen help and Trevor Rosenthal is the best pitcher they’ve got. The junior college shortstop becomes a postseason relief weapon – the Nationals give him as much credit as any Cardinals player for knocking them out of the NLDS.

The Cardinals needed a closer this year after Jason Motte’s elbow blew out in spring training. Most teams would have been tempted to see Rosenthal’s playoff success and force him into the role. The Cardinals waited. They cycled through closers all season until Sept. 23, when Rosenthal retired the last two batters of a win over the Nationals – his first career save. His only traditional, three-out save came two days later, also against the Nationals. He retired all three hitters he faced and struck out two.

Rosenthal, without question, has become the Cardinals playoff closer with all of three career saves to his name. He has been the anchor to the remarkable Cardinals’ pitching staff and their untouchable bullpen. After he extracted a double play out of Yaisel Puig and struck out Juan Uribe, the Cardinals’ 4-2 victory gave them a 3-1 edge over the Dodgers in the NLCS.

The Cardinals have dominated the Dodgers’ bats, especially once their starter departs. The Cardinals’ bullpen, which has been led the rookie foursome of Carlos Martinez, Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrest and Rosenthal, has allowed the Dodgers one earned run over 14 innings, striking out 13 and walking two unintentionally.

Rosenthal has been the most dominant force, notching three saves in three chances and keeping alive his personal playoff scoreless streak. In his postseason career, Rosenthal has thrown 14 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run while striking out 23, walking four and yielding five hits. He’s typical in that the Cardinals made him. On the Cardinals’ pitching staff, only John Axford, lefty specialist Randy Choate and fallen closer Edward Mujica were not developed by St. Louis.

The Cardinals have so often used unconventional means to turn longshots into pitching stars that it cannot be considered luck. It may seem like pitchers who throw 98 fall out of the sky and land in their dugout, like General Manager John Mozeliak trips over potential closers on his way to the car every morning, kicking them out of the way like toys his kid left out in the driveway.

Shelby Miller, Baseball America’s sixth-best prospect entering this season and the Cardinals best starting pitcher for most of the year, could not even crack St. Louis’s playoff rotation. He’s in the bullpen, and he hasn’t thrown a pitch this series. His only postseason appearance came in the eighth inning of a blowout loss to Pittsburgh in the NLDS.

Every team in the majors salivates over young pitching. The Cardinals have it coming out of their ears, and the Dodgers are the unlucky opponent that has to deal with it now.

Other Series

Over in the ALDS, the Red Sox needed only Mike Napoli’s solo homer in the seventh for John Lackey to outduel Justin Verlander. Junichi Tazawa relied on his fastball to retire Miguel Cabrera for the game’s biggest out. Cabrera has been stifled all series, and not only because of his injury. Tigers starters have been brilliant, but Austin Jackson is killing them.

Adam Kilgore covers national sports for the Washington Post. Previously he served as the Post's Washington Nationals beat writer from 2010 to 2014.
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